Sunday 24 December 2023

Sunday 24th December - The Plight of Victorian Female Artists

 Well, here we are at the end of Blogvent and we have met some incredible women this month and I am left with some truths universally acknowledged:

1. Don't work from London - if you are working from a town outside London, you will be a hero in the local press. You will be praised to the roof tops every time you exhibit anything and if you reach the Royal Academy, you will be loved even more.  They are also more likely to do a nice obituary for you, which will help your future biographers.

2. Try not to be related to another artist, especially if he is famous before you even start painting - the problem with a famous father is that you will always be in his shadow and compared to him.  Art historians will go on about how your work is far inferior to his and you are a pale copy.  If he is your husband or brother and you are working at the same time, there is a very good chance that people will mistake your work for his.  How many Emma Sandys are labelled as Fred Sandys? When Charles Gogin died, the newspapers said how Reigate had been given three paintings by him by his wife.  Problem was that only two of the pictures were his and the other was hers.

Mind you, if your husband/brother/father is extra famous, you stand a very good chance of appearing in his biography. Marion Collier's early life benefited from being a Huxley. Even if you only glance into a great man's orbit, there is a good chance you will leave a trail that future art historians and biographers can follow.  Try and leave some letters, that's always a great place to start.

3. Make friends with a journalist from the Queen - I can't even begin to explain how much that publication has saved me this month.  It really cared about women artists and wanted to share their stories, their pictures and their photographs. God bless the Queen!

4. Try and be wealthy - it will make your career easier.  Actually, that one is probably good advice full stop. Damn, I wish I could take my own advice...

This month I have been using the Royal Academy catalogues (both the text and the illustrated one) to find when our ladies were exhibiting and if I could find one of their paintings in the accompanying book (I was ever the optimist).  I began to wonder if there was any correlation between time passing and the position of women in the RA.  Obviously, this is not wholly scientific in a general sense, but we only have today left and I thought if I took two random years and looked at how women fared, we could see if the Victorians really were the repressive regime we assume and whether things really did change in a couple of decades with those ever-so modern Edwardians.

I took the 1892 RA and the 1914 RA as my test subjects because they were the earliest RA I could find with an illustration booklet and I thought I would use 1914 because enough men might die in the following few years to skew my results. By 1892, women had access to art schools and so you could argue that more women in the art establishment in the role of creator rather than the model would make a difference, not only in the people creating, but also what was created.

Hawking (undated) Laura Alma-Tadema

Starting with the stats for 1892: at the RA that year there were 2007 works of art created by 1262 artists.  Among those were 242 women.  That is not great, less than 20% but that would mean (if we were being optimistic) that one in six illustrations should be from women in the catalogue.  The illustrated catalogue had 200 illustrations, so around 38 of them should be by female artists. Even if we went with number of artists rather than number of illustrations, then out of the 156 artists illustrated, we should get 29. Actually, we had 9, which is less than 6%. They were by Laura Alma-Tadema, Hilda Montalba, Elizabeth Forbes, Jessie Macgregor, Henrietta Rae, Margaret Dicksee, Maud Goodman, Louise Jopling and Margaret Bird. Of those women, at least two, Rae and Jopling, had absolutely built themselves big careers at this point, Elizabeth Forbes and Laura Alma Tadema were married to artists who were well-known, Margaret Dicksee was from an art family with a famous father and brother. My point about not being related to anyone (above) is obviously wrong as it didn't harm those women in this instance.

1989 Guerrilla Girls' poster

So, if the female 6% made it to the catalogue through being artists, what about in subject matter?  When you start breaking down the paintings, you notice that rather a lot of women appear in the catalogue, they just have got their boobs out.  Some of them are rich enough (or married to someone rich enough) to have their portrait painted (boobs hidden).  Eleven of them are in distress. Thirteen of them are 'classical' which means they aren't naked but we can all see nipples through that frock, you're fooling no-one. Sixteen of them are pretty ladies with their clothes on and six of them are untrustworthy, tricksy minxes. There is one instance of male nudity, and male portraits are more prevalent that female.  There are twenty paintings of men being heroic, six of men with beards being serious, two of men in kilts and another two of soldiers being awfully brave (in addition to men being individually heroic). When you break it down, despite what was said to Alma Gogin about portraits not entering the RA easily, portraits got a lot of attention in the illustrations, followed by landscapes and waterscapes (non-fishing).  My favourite category, 'Poor People Being Sad,' scored five, and to be fair, they are mostly women too.

Off to 1914, and George V is on the throne, we are about to get into a massive war and women are off to factories and on their way to the vote (I have a thing about saying we were 'given' the vote, the Powers That Be just stopped withholding it in 1928) and if I am so inclined, the end of the 'Long Victorian' period is in sight.  Surely things have changed radically, right?

Mrs Ralph Peto (1921) Flora Lion

There were 2245 paintings in the 1914 RA, by 1526 artists.  Of those, 517 were women. That is 34%! That is a massive jump, so I can look forward to a third of the illustrations being from women - hurrah! There are 238 illustrations in the book and a third would be around 78.  We got 15, which is 6 and a bit. So, about the same then. Rats. Those women were Mary Young Hunter, Lucy Kemp-Welch, Flora M Reid, Laura Knight, Jessie Macgregor, Mia Arnesby Brown, Hilda Fearon, Marianne Stokes, Henrietta Rae, Nellie M Hepburn-Edmunds, Daisy Radcliffe Beresford, Flora Lion, Mary Waller, Alice Fanner and Mary F. Raphael. A couple of names remain the same, a few female painters have become famous in the meantime (Laura Knight, Lucy Kemp-Welch), but a fair number I had no idea about.

Angelica Kauffmann, introduced by Lady Wentworth, visits Mr. Reynolds’ studio (1892)
Margaret Dicksee

How about subject matter? Surely that would have changed?  Oh, absolutely and full-frontal nudity increased, whereas just topless stuff dropped back, so apparently boobs were not enough anymore.  I have to admit there were not as many obviously distressed women in 1914 (well, in illustration) but the quota of men being all heroic was still quite high. I am being flippant, but the lack of women being disappointed in men to varying degrees is interesting because, in all other ways, the subject matter of the paintings was remarkably similar. Were men incapable of disappointing women in 1914? Could we not afford to show our womenfolk in domestic distress when a war loomed on the horizon and we might need them to look distressed about other men, foreign men?

In 1895, it was reported in the newspapers that an art critic had chosen the 30 best pictures out of the whole Royal Academy exhibition (which we know ran into a thousand or two) and he chose only three by women - one each by Lady Butler, Jessie Macgregor and Elizabeth Forbes. As the Yarmouth Gazette mused 

'Three out of thirty seems a small percentage, but it must be remembered that it has been only during the last few years that facilities have been offered to girl students such as they have recently enjoyed. The profession of artist, even for men, is not yet quite free from the suspicion of Bohemianism and until some five or six years ago the ladies who adopted it as their chosen path in life were regarded by their friends as almost social pariahs, and had a fair amount of roughness to encounter.'

Well now, that's the reason that women artists are not appreciated! They have only just had the training and those that attempted it before were made social outcasts because of all the Bohemianism.  It all becomes clear, it's not because of societal prejudice then. That's all fine then.

Girl Fishing (c.1918) Mia Arnesby Brown

In case you weren't convinced of that argument, the Cheltenham Examiner is here to help - 'Except in pastels, watercolours and miniatures, women are seldom happy in strong portraiture. Though some of them may not think it, women have their limits, and that a sex limit.' Apparently our little lady hands can only make faint marks or else we swoon. Apologies.

It is easy to say 'sexism did it' when trying to explain why women did not get the chances.  I also was once asked at an event if women artists weren't famous because they just weren't as good, but I don't feel I am being defensive by saying all of the women who made the RA were as good as the men who were there, and some of them were as exceptional as the best of the men.  What worries me is the exceptional women who didn't get the chance to even blip on our radar.  I read a horrifying fact when reading about Adah Knight which was that 13,000 pictures were submitted to the 1896 RA and they only had room for 1600. That's around 12% so what about the other 11,400 works of art and artists who did not make it? It's a miracle that women made it there at all, and for that matter, what about working class men and people of colour - how can I tell just by looking at a name what the story for that person is? The RA catalogues are filled with names that have slipped into obscurity.  Who knows what secrets they hold?

I need to go to bed as Father Christmas is on his way, but I think our plan of action is this - the internet is stuffed with free resources - on, on the Royal Academy page, on ArtUK - find an artist who is obscure, whose art you love, and befriend her.  Make her part of your family. Research the hell out of her and do not be put off by nonsense written in the newspapers about her or in the biography of very important men. Each little step along the way of putting these women back in the narrative is worthwhile.  I couldn't find everything I wanted to about the women who graced Blogvent because I was doing it in 12 hour shifts.  Imagine what can be found with more time and more digging. 

"She had two eyes so soft and brown, Take Care!
She gives a side glance and looks down, Beware!"
(1912-14) Nellie Hepburn Edmunds

It's all very well for me to look at the statistics behind the Royal Academy exhibitions and make tutting noises but if we leave these women in obscurity then we are not helping to highlight their work or proving the likes of the Cheltenham Examiner c.1902 wrong. If you liked one of the women from the last 23 days, start digging! Do a curation on ArtUK, write an article, see where has her work and go and visit it. If I have learned anything from the last thirty years of doing this sort of nonsense then it is this (and Fanny Cornforth will back me up here) : If you talk long enough and loudly enough about someone, people will join in and that person will become part of the conversation. 

If I can do it, so can you. Happy Christmas.

Saturday 23 December 2023

Saturday 23rd December - Alma Broadbridge Gogin (1854-1948)

 I wonder if it is wrong that I chose today's subject because of her name? 

It's all go today as we are having our Christmas Day tomorrow with the family, so I am busy making croissants (family tradition), peeling sprouts and making a trifle whilst trying to remember what I could have possibly forgotten,  In the meantime, for the penultimate day of Blogvent I have the charmingly named Alma Gogin for company...

Alma Gogin (undated) Charles Gogin

I have found another artist-wife-of-an-artist, however, before she was Alma Gogin, she was Susan Alma Broadbridge, born on 1st October 1854 to Edward (1830-1911) and Mary (1828-1906) in Brighton.  Edward was a furniture dealer and upholsterer (like Averil Burleigh's Dad and my Uncle Chub) with the family living above the (quite large and pleasant) shop in East Street in Brighton, close to the sea.  Her mother was a milliner and the family seem very comfortably off, Edward serving as a local Councillor, and the family was well-known. Alma was the second of four siblings - her older sister Kate (1853-1927) and younger brothers Edward (1863-1898) and Walter (1871-1946). By 1871, the family had moved up the road to Queen's Road and were living at 111 Queen's Road, now known as Sundial House.  There was definitely a moment when she stopped being Susan and started being Alma but that seems to have happened at different times for her work life and census records.  I'll just make it simple and call her Alma, as she wanted.

At some point in the 1870s and 80s, Alma went to Paris to study art with Gustave Boulanger (1824-1888) and Julian Joseph Lefebvre (1836-1911) at the Academie Julian, and she appears to be absent from home during the 1881 census so that may well have coincided with this period.  Alma's work was first seen in her native Brighton in the Corporation Gallery's 1880 exhibition of oil paintings.  Of the around 700 works, a fifth of them were by local artists including Alma.  Her work also appeared at the Manchester Art Gallery exhibition of 1884 where the gallery bought her piece Cherries for £6 6s for the collection.

Her break into the Royal Academy came in 1886 with An Unequal Match, which didn't make much impact in the press, but she also had two other exhibitions which at least got her mentioned.  The November exhibition of the Nineteenth Century Art Society in Conduit Street contained Alma's piece Day Dreams described by the London Evening Standard  as 'a very well dressed young lady, sitting in a very pretty chair - [it] invites attention by harmonious colours and dignity of treatment.'  She also appeared in Brighton's Corporation Art Gallery 12th annual exhibition of modern pictures in oil where, according to the Brighton Herald she 'showed some good work'.

"So for good or ill in leaves of tea / Do maidens find their fortune told" (1887)

By 1887's Royal Academy, Alma had moved to Warwick Studios in Hampstead and her painting that year was "So for good or ill in leaves of tea / Do maidens find their fortune told" which is also known by the far duller title 'Tea leaves'.  I love this painting, even down to the tassels on the tablecloth. I'd love to see it and see if we can work out what the fortune will be - there are some flowers and a fan, all of which hold messages, for example the open fan in the left hand means 'come and talk to me,' which might hint that she is hoping for someone she loves to come and tell her that they love her too. Next to her seems to be a bunch of those tiny daffodils which symbolise forgiveness, and the lily next to her has died (is that a Madonna lily with dead flowers?).  I'm building a whole scenario of someone dying and she's learning to forgive them because she's met a good looking bloke who will look after her daffodils for her. I love narrative art so much.

Shipyards Studio, Shoreham (1889)

In 1888, Alma started to offer lessons in the Brighton Gazette - 'Miss Alma Broadbridge, exhibitor at the Royal Academy and pupil of Mons. Lefbre [sic] and Mons. Boulanger (members of the Institute of France) has established a CLASS for the study of DRAWING and PAINTING in oil and water-colour. Private lessons and schools by arrangement - 60 Brunswick Road, Hove.' When I read things like that, the capital letters end up being shouted for effect. She appeared to have moved back down to Brighton, backed up by her 1889 Royal Academy entries, a three-quarter portrait of her mother and another of a woman after a ball. The Brighton Gazette  reported 'the young artist may consider herself very fortunate in getting two pictures hung, especially as they were portraits' which is an interesting attitude - I assumed portraits would get less attention in the press unless the person was well known or exceptionally pretty but I didn't know that portraits were harder to get into the RA, or at least perceived to be.

Alma Reading (1888) Charles Gogin

There was no exhibition for Alma in 1890, but in 1891 she was back at the RA with Confirmation Day. She was the last of the children living at home according to the census that year: Kate was married to Charles Hudson and living in Cuckfield in Sussex, Edward was married to Clara and living in Brighton, Walter away from home and due to be married to Louise. Alma married in 1894 to fellow artist Charles Gogin (1844-1931).  A decade older, Charles was the son of a commercial clerk from France who died in the mid 1860s.  Before his father's death Charles too was heading for Clerk Life, whilst his sister Cecilia was training to be an artist.  After Claude Gogin died, Charles trained to be a painter, hence he and Alma were at a similar point in their careers, although Charles exhibited a little earlier.

Our Studio in Shoreham (1900)

The Royal Academy just after the Gogin wedding was the last one Alma exhibited as 'Broadbridge'.  Her piece "Please, May I Come In?" received no press coverage or any illustration in the Royal Academy catalogue. That's true of all her work, and to be fair, Charles isn't exactly overly illustrated on that front either.  Alma returned in 1895 with Little Sunshine and the couple had moved to Shoreham (living there around the same time as Annie Miller, Pre-Raphaelite model). 

The Captain's Story (1895)

She also showed The Captain's Story in 1895 which proved very popular.  The Manchester Evening News reported 'The old tar is telling his stirring tale to the children, and the pose and intense expression of the three are admirable.'  Stratford upon Avon Herald felt the work illustrated 'her capacity of subject.' It is a beautiful picture, a bit like something painted by George Dunlop Leslie.  She scored again in 1898 with "What Shall I Say?" a painting of a girl sitting at a spinning wheel reading a letter, which was hung in a favourable position.  She also appeared in the Autumn exhibition at the Dudley Art Gallery in September.

Regrets (undated)

By 1901, Alma and Charles were living in Compton Avenue in Brighton, which are tall white houses that are worth over a million. Both Alma and Charles are listed as artists and art teachers on the census and they have a servant.  As far as I can see, Alma didn't exhibit on such a grand scale after this point. Charles had painted the portrait of Samuel Butler, novelist, and acted as his artistic consultant; on Butler's death in 1902, the author left Charles a life annuity of £100 which would pass to Alma on Charles's death.

Anemones (20th century)

In the 1911 census, again the Gogins are both artists and art teachers at Clarence Square.  In fact, their life seems quite quiet and uneventful other than a move from Brighton to Reigate in Surrey until Charles's death in 1931, then Alma's profile rises rapidly once more.  Charles died in the January of that year and by the March, possibly spurred by his death, she was holding an exhibition at their home at 95 Station Road in Reigate. The Surrey Mirror reported that Alma was 'an artist of considerable repute' and the exhibition 'promises to afford much pleasure and interest ... students of art, particularly, could spend many useful moments glancing at the fine collection of flower studies - in oil and water-colour - which constitute one of the features of a notably varied show.'  She also gave the Borough two paintings by Charles - Sea Poppies and Ypres Castle, Rye - and one of her own, Regrets.

Chrysanthemums (1927)

By the 1939 register, Alma had moved to 92 Blackborough Road in Reigate, listed merely as retired, a widow with a maid. In 1945, Alma invited the Haywoods Heath librarian (the town not being very far from Reigate) to view her collection with the idea to bequeath several of her and her husband's paintings to the new Haywoods Heath Museum.  She died three years later, noted by the West Sussex Gazette - 'By the death of Mrs Alma Gogin (92) of Hatchlands Road, Redhill, an interesting link with Victorian art and letters has been severed.  Mrs Gogin was the widow of Charles Gogin, landscape and portrait painter ... Mrs Gogin was also a gifted artist, who specialised in flower studies and was a discriminating collector of objets d'art.'

Alma (1890s) Charles Gogin

I think we have a rare moment where both Alma and her husband have been neglected.  Look at the tissue on the portrait of Alma above, stabilising the the paint surface in need of conservation. The couple are both talented artists and need our love.  What I find interesting about Alma is that although she did a fair amount of flower painting, she found her fame with narrative pieces, yet she is repeatedly called a flower painter.  Here is the continued down-playing of women's art, still-life scoring far below other categories in the artistic hierarchy. As we draw to the end of Blogvent, there are patterns of how these women are forgotten, are diminished, and tomorrow we will examine the scale of the problem then and now, and work out how we will fix it.

Friday 22 December 2023

Friday 22nd December - Margaret Murray Cookesley (1843-1927)

 I've started typing this at 6.30am, shortly before I'm off to buy food for the weekend, so thoughts and prayers would be appreciated.  I'm hoping that everyone is keeping safe and warm and well, and that your Christmas crackers are as nice as mine (they are Natural History Museum ones, very pretty indeed). After yesterday's quite epic time with Averil, I'm very much hoping that today will be quieter, but I suspect that this lady artist is going to be an interesting challenge as she was a traveller.  Say hello to Margaret Murray Cookesley...

An Interesting Letter (1892)

She began as Margaret Deborah Garland, born in April 1843 to an affluent family in Dorset. Her parents were John Bingley Garland (1792-1875) and Frances 'Fanny' Maria (1815-1886), who married in 1822 in Poole, near Bournemouth.  The couple had seven children (in total), and Margaret was the sixth and last daughter. John appears to have been married before in Canada, and remarried in 1840 to Fanny, making her the mother of Margaret's elder sister Frances (1841-1925) and younger brother John Butler Garland (1845-?). John Senior was a merchant and the first Speaker of the House for Newfoundland, with a rather useful Wikipedia page. He was also an artist, creating the Blood Collages.  You heard me...

Two of the Blood Collages by John Bingley Garland

I do not have the time to unpick all of this and mercifully there is a page if you fancy a look, flipping nora. Let's move on swiftly...

Moroccan Orange Sellers (undated)

Margaret trained in Belgium under Louis Gallait and then returned for a year to South Kensington to study anatomy.  Similar to Averil Burleigh, it seems that no sooner than Margaret had finished her training, she married.  Her husband was Edward Murray Cookesley (1837-1916), an officer under Brigadier General Franks at the Indian Mutiny and the Siege of Lucknow. The couple married at Wimbourne Minster in April of 1866 and Edward sold his commission in 1870, retiring from the army.  Interestingly, Margaret's sister Frances also married a soldier, Henry Hoste Swinny in 1870 and he retired his commission at the same time as Edward.

The Lion Tamers (1898)

For reasons I will come to when we reach 1894, I know that from 1870-78, Edward had no occupation.  I know that Margaret travelled to the Holy Lands, to Egypt and countries to the East where she painted scenes of life and leisure for which she would become famous.  I think the first mention I can find for her in the newspaper is in 1883 in Truth, where she appears in a review of the Ladies Amateur Art Society with her picture Drifting Home.  Another reason to believe she had travelled prior to this is that she also exhibited Egyptian Seis and Mohamitan Priests Entering a Mosque at the same exhibition.

In 1884 she appeared in a more professional manner with the Society of Lady Artists at Great Marlborough Street where she exhibited Young Egypt which showed 'considerable pictorial promise' according to the Illustrated London News. This paved the way for her appearances at the Royal Academy which started in 1885 with An Arab Cemetery.  The couple's address was 12 Observatory Avenue in Campden Hill.  What is interesting is that her husband left for America around this time and managed a horse ranch in Wyoming (among other things) until 1892.  According to the Kensington News, she spent her winter with Edward in 1889 in San Francisco but obviously spent time apart from him, concentrating on her career.

In 1888 she showed Gordon's Friends: Women of the Upper Nile and An Eastern Doorway. She also showed A Barber Shop at Tangiers at McLean's Gallery, another scene from her journeys in North Africa and the Middle East. That is definitely where her heart was, as there is no doubt she travelled but there are no images of America or Europe, only her wholehearted embrace of Orientalism. The Burnley Express commented that Mrs Murray Cookesley 'is advancing by leaps and bounds.' The Morning Post in 1888 also reported that Margaret had left town for Morocco with the purpose of making sketches of 'Oriental life.' As the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News reported in 1890, when reviewing the Nineteenth Century Art Society's Summer exhibition 'the Eastern subjects of M. Murray Cookesley are as worthy of adoration as anything in the exhibition.'

The Little Mogul (1892)

I was astonished by how quickly Margaret's reputation grew and I think no small part of that is Margaret's active pursuit of her subjects and capturing what she imagined the Eastern life was. I wondered if her 1891 RA painting Three Little Wags was a play on Three Little Maids (I can't stop making that comparison, I do apologise), but in 1893 she got to make a trip that would seal her reputation forever.  She was commissioned by the Sultan of Constantinople to paint his son.  He apparently handed her a photograph of the boy saying that would be sufficient, but Margaret insisted that she needed to sketch from life and so managed to fit in a couple of carriage journeys with him in order to get enough of a sketch to make the portrait.  The Sultan was so impressed with the resultant piece that he gave her the Order of the Chefakat and the Sultan requested that Margaret stay and paint his wives but she didn't have enough time. 

A Tableaux for the Crystal Palace

While doing the research for this I was puzzled by the sudden change in her activities in the mid 1890s.  She went from being all about her fine art and travel to tableaux vivant and novelty, which seemed an odd choice to make.  I'm not judging anyone for being popularist and it certainly seems that when the directors of the Constantinople experience at Olympia were after an artistic director, Margaret's art made her an obvious choice. The Echo reported that 'judging from the dress rehearsal of "The Orient" at Olympia yesterday, everything, even the minutest detail is in working order for the opening ... ladies of the harem are posed in graceful attitudes clothed in gorgeous costumes.  Mrs Murray Cookesley has  also designed the Temple of Venus.'  In addition to this, she created living pictures at the Crystal Palace, recreating different scenes from art and history in tableaux vivant which included Titania and Oberon, Cleopatra, a Guardian Angel watching a sick child and a popular picture of the time Art Attracts the Heart. All this at a place called the Palace of Perpetual Pleasure. 

'Rich and rare were the gems she wore' (undated)

Now, all this seemed odd until I read a separate news article from 1894 about Edward Murray Cookesley's bankruptcy.  He had accrued losses and liabilities that were in excess of an equivalent of over £200K in today's money and his movements and mistakes over the previous decade were written in the newspapers.  I'm guessing that Margaret took any and all work she could get and that Palaces of Perpetual Pleasures paid well. It also might be the reason they move quite a bit before settling in 1898 at Cromwell Place.  In the meantime, Margaret exhibited more Arabic scenes including Umbrellas to Mend: Damascus in 1894, An Arab Cafe, Cairo in 1895 and Death of the First Born in 1896. Edward also invented tinned soup at this time, which was amazing - don't get excited, it wasn't like cream of tomato, he just found a way of placing a powdered soup into a cartridge which could be combined with water and boiled, making a soup that was 'more than merely palatable' according to the Echo in April 1896. Yummy.

Ellen Terry as Imogen (1898)

Possibly the most surprising move is 1898 portrait of Ellen Terry as Shakespearean heroine Imogen, which is not only really good but is also not a street scene in the Middle East. She also received a third prize for her picture The Gambler's Wife at the 10th annual drawing of the Crystal Palace Art Union.

The Gambler's Wife (1898)

I wonder if her husband's financial troubles were common knowledge, as she released a statement reported in the newspapers in 1899 that she and Edward were not leaving Cromwell Place.  She had purchased the house and studio from the estate of John Everett Millais (as it belonged to him before his death) and I think it is interesting (or maybe I am reading too much into it) that the newspaper report says that she had bought the house and studio.

Astarte (1903)

Her RA appearances continued and in 1903, she was commission to paint Astarte for George Royle who lived in Cairo.  This is a very interesting painting as I have also seen it referred to as A Priestess of Isis and Cleopatra but Astarte is the title published underneath it in the Queen magazine accompanying the article on the commission.

A detail which I absolutely loved when I read it is that when Margaret was preparing to submit her paintings into the RA she would hold a 'picture tea' for her friends.  This was reported in the Northern Whig in March of 1904 when her friends had visited for tea in order to see her new works.  She also became the chair of the Society of Lady Artists, who held an event at the Grand Hotel in London in 1905 for the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, John Lea.  Lea had been a friend to artists for many years, extending great hospitality to them for the Autumn exhibition in Liverpool and it was arranged that a reciprocal event should be held in London but the male artists excluded the women from the event so they held their own. Margaret even wore her medal from the Sultan.

Circe Resplendens (1913)

I'm not sure exactly when Margaret and Edward took a place in Bath but I'm guessing it was before the Great War as Edward was part of the Bath Anti-German Union.  She kept the house in Cromwell Place as she continued to submit works to the RA from there, showing The Escape and Joyous Youth in 1907, In Captivity in 1908 and Circe Resplendens in 1911.  I really wish I had an image of her 1912 RA work The Latest Bit of Gossip, but sadly not to be found as it was obviously beyond the RA illustrated catalogue to have any of her work.

Edward died in 1916 and he received a reverent mention in the local press, including his service at Lucknow and the Mutiny.  Margaret remained part of Bath's social life, exhibiting with the RA while also manning a stall at a local sale of work for St Michael's missionary work. Her last work at the Royal Academy was Entrance to the Old Mosque at Damascus, a fitting end to a life enchanted by the beauty of the Middle East.

Frederick Harrison (undated)

The Bath Chronicle ran a full obituary for her when Margaret died on 8th February 1927.  It talked about how she loved to travel, what a good musician she was and how she was best known locally as a portrait painter which would have surprised her critics. The piece ends with fond sentiments about her love of her work and others 'Her generosity towards deserving causes, a generosity of time and labour as well as substance, will never be forgotten.'

Portrait of  a Girl (undated)

I'm not entirely sure how we forgot her art, but hopefully her works, and not just her pieces from the Middle East, will be remembered, as well as a woman who was not afraid to paint from life and travel for her art. Orientalism is such a loaded and problematic subject matter now, any artistic merit naturally tinged with Empire, but it would be good, as the Bath Chronicle did, to look at Margaret's art as more than just Eastern images, and her work as a portraitist should not be ignored.  The portrait of the girl above reminded me of modern works such as pictures by Annie Ovenden and if you had told me that it was from the 1970s, I would have believed you.  However, it also reminds me of Millais' early portraits, and I would love to see more of her work like this because it is beautiful. Possibly the secret to Margaret's revival lies in her portraiture, so we should start hunting for more.

Thursday 21 December 2023

Thursday 21st December - Averil Mary Burleigh (1883-1949)

 Blimey, we're almost there and we've reached the shortest day, which is a relief as Spring is on its way! After yesterday, I felt I owed you a colourful post and although I know some people will get irritated by my inclusion of Averil Mary Burleigh as a Victorian artist, I'm sticking to my guns as I am bloody-minded and anyway, she was born in the 1880s.  She also was an artist in tempera, which gets me all overexcited (I love a bit of tempera revival) and she did book illustrations for Keats and she married an artist and gave birth to one. I think she may well be a full house! Let's crack on with our new friend Averil...

Averil Burleigh (1940s) Charles Burleigh

Today looks like it will end up an embarrassment of riches in terms of illustrations compared to yesterday, but that is no bad thing as I really think it will help to see the pictures we are talking about.  This will certainly be the case when we start talking about why I was so happy to include Averil Burleigh in my line-up of Victorian women, especially since she didn't show one picture until Victoria had turned up her toes.  However, as I have said before, what is Victorian art if not art made by Victorians? Is there such a thing as 'Victorian' when not attached to a person and who are we to decide if something is or is not Victorian?  I think this is essentially a female issue as we tend to think of liberated women as 'modern' and repressed women as 'Victorian' but is that being truthful about either viewpoint? I find it very interesting when 'modern' art critics (those of the 1920s to 40s) refer to an artist as 'Victorian,' or even more controversially 'Pre-Raphaelite,' when art writers now decry using such terms.  We'll come back to this...

Illustration from an edition of John Keats' poems (1911)

So, Averil Mary Dell was born on 21st April 1882 to Henry (1852-1924) and Hannah (1856-1926), in Hassocks in West Sussex. Averil was the third of six children, born between 1877-90. Henry was an Upholsterer (like my Uncle Chub) and the family were obviously doing well enough to employ servants by the 1891 census, when they had moved to Ditchling. They would have been there for the arrival of Amy Sawyer (long before Eric Gill was embarrassing anyone's lifestock). Averil had her training in Brighton Art School, for which the family moved to Brighton, living in St Michael's Place in a tall, white Victorian house. She did very well; the Brighton Gazette reported the school results in 1902 and Averil got a first class for model drawing, drawing from life, drawing from the antique, modelling design and modelling the head from life  I'm guessing it was at art school that she met fellow artist Charles Burleigh.

Charles Burleigh (1940s) Veronica Burleigh

Charles was from Hove (which is very close to Brighton) and in 1901 he was a boarder in a house less than half a mile from the Dell family.  He was a bit older, born in 1868, so I wondered if he was also a teacher at the art school.  The couple married in 1904 and very quickly had their children Duncan  (1905-1953) and Veronica (1909-1999).  There was a very interesting line in one of her obituaries that I thought summed up how different a 'modern' attitude to motherhood was to a Victorian one - 'her career was interrupted by marriage and the rearing of a family. But it was not long before she was once again seriously devoting herself to art.' (Eastbourne Chronicle, 13 January 1950) The language used is astonishing - interrupted, rearing a family - and I can't think that anyone would speak like that now, let alone in 1904, but somehow in 1950, there is a level of bitterness about how women's lives are curtailed by domestic and social obligations. I'm not saying they are wrong to point out how much work she could have got done in the years between her marriage and her first RA acceptance, it's just we don't tend to say that out loud.  Maybe I should move to 1950...

Illustration for 'Ode to a Nightingale'

So, once Veronica and Duncan were reared (like bantam hens, is what comes to mind), the family had moved to 7 Wilbury Crescent in Hove. Houses along that street are absolutely delightful and go for around £1M to give you some idea of how nice. 1911 saw the publication of an edition of John Keats' poems for which Averil did illustrations that are fantastic and full of fairies and magic. Charles had started exhibiting at the RA in 1905 but Averil would have to wait until 1912 for her first piece to appear, The Man Born to be King. You could argue he got to exhibit first because the domestic responsibility did not fall on him, but Averil still reached the RA at 30 to Charles's 37.  There was nothing at the RA in 1913, but 1914 saw two more paintings exhibited there, The Lovers and Motherhood.  It also saw the publication of an edition of Macbeth with Averil's illustrations...

Macbeth was followed in 1915 with Much Ado About Nothing and Adoration at the Royal Academy. The book was greeted with enthusiasm, praising the work as being full of 'cleverness and imagination.' (Stratford Upon Avon Herald, 12 February 1915).  The following year, Averil had two pictures at the RA again, Sir Cauline and the Fair Christabelle and St Genevieve, which the Sussex Daily News called 'very nearly, if not quite, a masterpiece.'  1916 also saw Averil show Japanese Sunshades at the Brighton Autumn Exhibition and exhibit with the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, The Dancers, which was for sale for £20. The Dancers also appeared at the 1919 Royal Academy.

Cup and Ball: A Study in Rhythmic Movement (1920)

This is where researching someone who is that little bit later gets a little bit easier as we have newspaper illustrations!  The Sketch was keen to show some pictures, whereas the Royal Academy's official illustrated catalogue only included her once. 1920's RA included Averil's water colour Cup and Ball and Caerulea, hanging in the same gallery as Girl Gang alumni, May Louise Greville Cooksey, followed up in 1921 by The Magic Belt.

The Madonna of the Peach Tree (1923)

1922 saw Dian's Pool at the Royal Academy, described as a 'fantastical conceit' by the West Sussex Gazette. The following year, one of her two works Golden Hours and The Madonna of the Peach Tree actually made it into the RA official illustrated guide.  Sadly, that would be the only time. She missed 1924 at the RA, but followed up in 1925 with The Keeper of Keys.  She also appeared at an exhibition of pictures and drawings at the Galleries of the Fine Art Society, New Bond Street - 'Mrs Burleigh is an artist of uncommon and individual gifts. She has imagination, and the power to express that imagination with a fine sense of style...Her work belongs to a Pre-Raphaelite tradition, with something that is Mrs Burleigh's own.'

Sand Dunes (1926)

Yes, they (the Brighton Herald)  called her Pre-Raphaelite and it will happen again.  1926 saw Sand Dunes and The Hospital, Vire, followed in 1927 by Youth's Distraction and Diana the Huntress. Not much was said in the news and I really want to get to 1928 because that's when the Eastbourne Chronicle reviewed the Society of Sussex Painters with this - 'A PRE-RAPHAELITE To my mind, one of the most interesting exhibitors is Mrs Averil Burleigh, who can only be described as a survival of the Pre-Raphaelite School.' They went on to describe Golden Isle and Distractions of Youth as 'though highly artificial, are very delightful. The colourings, gold and greens, reds and blues, are clear and fine.' Let's circle back to this at the end...

1928 also saw three pictures at the RA and we have images for all of them! We have The Herald of Spring, followed by The Popinjay...

Both were illustrated in the newspapers as contenders for their 'picture of the year'. Finally, we have one of Averil's best known works, The Troubadour, this time in colour...

Hang on! That's the same picture!  Well, it works with either title but I think the picture is The Troubadour, so heaven knows what The Popinjay looks like...

Nijinski in l'Apres-Midi d'un Faune (1928)

1928 also saw the presentation to Belfast Municipal Art Gallery of Sand Dunes (above) and the exhibition of a portrait of the dancer Nijinsky, so the newspapers were full of Averil and her Pre-Raphaelite-ish art. The Eastbourne Gazette sang her praises - 'Mrs Averil Burleigh, the brilliant artist who lives at Brighton, shows some of her decorative paintings which are touched with the medieval...Averil Burleigh, who is the mother of a tall son and an artistic daughter - the latter often acts as model to her mother - is the wife of C H H Burleigh, RBI, an artist of real renown, and their happy life is an example of how two people possessing the artistic temperament may avoid "getting on each other's nerves."' Interesting how quickly Averil got reduced back down to a mother and wife in a year where she had received so much praise and had so much success.

The Jugglers: A Study in Modernity

In 1929, Averil exhibited The Jugglers at the Society of Women Artist and it was illustrated in the Sketch in 1932.  She also had Victory at the Royal Academy, where her daughter Veronica was exhibiting her first Academy work. I absolutely love this image by Veronica of her and her parents from 1937...

Self Portrait with Artist's Parents (c.1937)

There is a lovely ArtUK piece on Veronica that mentions Averil and Charles, but here is a unique problem of living in a household of artists - they kept painting themselves and each other...

Averil Burleigh painting at 7 Wilbury Crescent (c.1940) Charles Burleigh

Charles painted Averil, then Averil and the kids...

The Burleigh Family Taking Tea at 7 Wilbury Crescent (1947) Charles Burleigh

Averil used Veronica as a model and Veronica painted Averil.  The two paintings I find most interesting are two portraits of Averil, one by Charles and one by Averil.  I was reminded of the Elizabeth Siddal self-portrait as opposed to Rossetti's image of her...

Self Portrait (1928)

Averil painted herself in her tempera glory, medieval and plain, with the rolling splendour of the hills behind her, lost in a medieval revelry.  This is in very sharp contrast to Charles's portrait...

Averil Burleigh (1930s) Charles Burleigh

I really like this portrait but she does look like a really classy knitwear model. In Charles's portrait, she is glam and modern, not medieval and androgynous. It is interesting how Averil's use of tempera seems to completely shape how she sees herself, and you can see the influence of others of the tempera school, like Joseph Southall and Maxwell Armfield. 

Washer Women (1930)

The works at the Royal Academy continued for all of them in the 1930s. Averil produced multiple paintings for the May exhibition ever year, which is impressive, and included Les Blanchisseuse and The Spring Poets, both in tempera, in 1930, Gossip, St Genevieve and Treasurers from the East all tempera, in 1931.  1932 brought Washing Day, The Garland and Susanna, again all tempera.

The Still Room (1928-33)

Her 1933 RA piece The Still Room might have been exhibited elsewhere as early as 1928, as well as A Rest and Three Generations. The decade continued with tempera pieces and oil, mixed in with water colour, all of them graceful and delicate with such vivid colours.

Hockey on the Ice (undated)

In 1936, she became a member of the Royal Institute but resigned in 1939 when she was one of just two women elected as an Associate of the Royal Water Colour Society.  She was also a founder of the Sussex Women's Art Club and seems to have been held in very high regard by the local newspapers.

A Girl with a Parasol in Conversation with Flowers (1920s)

In 1939, the family were still at 7 Wilbury Crescent with Charles listed as an artist teacher, Averil as an artist, Veronica the same, but Duncan as 'incapacitated'. I expected them to stay there forever, but in 1943, the Burleigh's Royal Academy address changed to Dinas, Bettws-Y-Coed in North Wales. Veronica served in the WAAF and I wonder if her parents and Duncan moved to North Wales for safety.  I thought 7 Wilbury Crescent had been bombed as there appears to be a block of modern flats in its place, but this site states that Veronica lived there until the 1970s, so if it had been demolished, it was a 1960s and onwards clearance.

Averil continued to paint and exhibit almost to her death in 1949 - her last RA piece was Oranges and Lemons in 1945. She died on 18th March, leaving Charles over £6K.  Sadly, he also died in 1956, with Duncan going between them in 1953, leaving Veronica alone in Wilbury Crescent with all her mother's medieval tempera art.

The Little Prince (undated)

When Averil died, the local papers wrote fulsome commentary on her importance and local retrospectives were arranged.  My favourite is the one from 1950 in the Eastbourne Chronicle which gave me many of the facts for this post about her schooling and which societies she belonged to.  According to the article, she also appeared in the Paris Salon and New English Art Club, which I can find nowhere else.  The exhibition it was reviewing included 57 paintings, the largest of them being Refugees, best suited to a hotel reception, according to the newspaper.

Endymion (1911)

So, why does the term 'Pre-Raphaelite' matter? To the critics in the 1930s, it obviously signified things, such as Keats, Medievalism, details. I can almost hear some of you from here shouting 'No!' because I think we are so used to the term being applied to anything vaguely floral or red-haired, and I have noticed in recent years the tightening up of 'Pre-Raphaelite'' and Pre-Raphaelite follower', but I agree with the critics in the 1930s, there is something in her drafting of figures, especially the dancers, that reminds me of Millais.  For some of you, the fact that I call her a 'Victorian artist' will not make sense as Edward VII was almost dead by the time she hit the RA but what makes someone Victorian? What makes someone modern? This is a conversation I look forward to having again...